Miners, their families and surrounding communities inhale dangerous mercury during the process of gold extraction, say Dr. Victoria Mukasa of Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH).
Over 20,000 artisanal small scale gold miners who earn a living from this venture in Uganda are exposed to life threatening illnesses resulting from mercury use.
“Mercury used by these miners is lethal to many lives,” Mukasa, also the project coordinator of Mercury free gold mining project notes.
She adds that mercury is a metal that has been associated with damage to the body including the brain, lungs and kidneys.
Most affected are families in districts like; Mubende, Busia, Ibanda, Nakapiripirit, and Buhweju among others.
Mukasa explains that during the process of gold extraction, ore is mixed with mercury to form an amalgam which is burnt to release mercury as vapor.
“Young and old men, pregnant women plus those who work with babies as young as below 5 years are all at risk,” she adds.
Mukasa confirms the much desired mineral also leads to psychiatric illnesses, cancers and poor school performances in children whose mothers were exposed to mercury during pregnancy.
More to that, the remaining mercury is dumped with the tailings or waste ore and eventually finds its way in the streams and water bodies.
“Through the food chain, mercury reaches aquatic animals like fish we eat and other foods we commonly find on our tables like rice and yams among others,” Mukasa elaborates.
She adds that according to statistics, artisanal small scale miners are found to contribute about 37% of the mercury that is circulating in the atmosphere in the world.
This mercury is sold to the miners by gold traders at sh700, 000 per kilogram compared to sh50,000 for borax.
However, Ivan Male Kauma, an engineer, miner and one of the coordinators for Mubende miners who were evicted recently says that they train and sensitize miners on the dangers of mercury.
He also called for co-existence of artisanal small scale miners alongside the big investors like it’s done in other countries.
Mukasa upholds a much safer method called gravity concentration were borax is used to extract gold.